Chapter 6: A Sensory Base Integrated Health Framework for Highly Sensitive Children
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” Hippocrates
It is clear that without sensory literacy, we will continue to inadvertently disadvantage and hurt some of our most sensitive children. As we discussed in chapter 4, we tend to be unaware of the prevalent sensory toxicity in our western world, while other cultures have integrated the senses in their belief systems for millennia. Dealing with the invisible nature of the senses makes re-learning sensory wisdom difficult.
As a parent who did not find answers or solutions within the medical system, I began to look for answers in other traditions. It became evident that there is a sensory culture distributed amongst many traditions that can help us create a bridge between our societal accepted notions of health and sensorial well being. Could synthesizing ancient Asian, aboriginal health traditions as well as holistic health and emerging neuroscience and other research models, offer solutions that address the complexity of sensory health? Could such an approach make it possible to re-understand spatial embodied knowledge and begin to build the sensory literacy necessary to decolonize our senses?
While I am not an expert in these traditions, witnessing the richness of cultures that related to the senses made me want to incorporate some of these wisdoms in our lives. These alternate ideas made it possible for me to address an array of hidden health determinants that could be balanced in my children and myself. Be reminded that I am not a medical doctor. In order to help my children, I have done a lot of research but also consult and rely on a team of health practitioners. Generating in the process a sensory health “library” to consider sensory well being.
My role as a parent is to understand my children well enough to be able to collaborate with health professionals when needed. This is where a health framework has become useful to us. By understanding which aspects of health is out of balance within my children, I can then research and develop strategies with the help of a health practitioner, a naturopath, occupational therapist, psychologists, social worker, teacher, etc.
I began to think of an approach to health focused on the senses and through time this led me to formulate a sensory health framework and, in the process, developed a deeper understanding of “out of sync” sensorial behaviours and to approach sensory perception from multiple perspectives. When I began this quest, I was interested in finding a health framework that not only favour the centrality of the senses to health but also acknowledge the role of technology in defining space. So far, I have not found one. But with my research in alternative cultural models in mind, I began to wonder if it would be possible to combine some of these ideas into one model.
But health is a difficult concept to define. According to health coach Chris Kresser, there’s no such thing as perfect health. But we can take steps toward a better health. Among those steps, none is more important than the next and the focal point will vary from person to person:
“Most of us want black and white answers to questions like this, because they provide the illusion of safety and certainty. We want the answer to be the same for everyone, because it’s easier to follow a system or a prescription than it is to find our own way. And as tribal animals, we humans like to be part of a group.”(Kresser, 2013)[i]
Kresser noticed that each of us has a significant blind spot or area in our lives where we lack awareness and insight. Most of us invest the majority of our time and energy strengthening the parts of our life that are already strong:
“These stronger links are where we feel comfortable and confident, where we can operate safely within the bounds of who we think we are. And this is where the problem lies. No matter how much we strengthen the links in our chain that are already strong, if there’s still a weak link the chain as a whole isn’t stronger. It can break just as easily.
A better approach, of course, would be to focus our efforts on the strengthening the weak link. But that is much, much harder to do. Why? Because it usually requires us to step out of our concept of self and challenge our very identity. It asks us to grow and evolve and shine the light of awareness into the dark corners of our psyche. This isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s not as simple as popping a pill or eliminating nightshades from our diet. It’s a life’s work.”(Kresser, 2013)
As Kresser points out, there isn’t an easy, quick solution to health. And in the end, No one can tell you what is going to work for your family, as the issues are inter-related and specific to each family. Similarly, there is not one way of approaching this issue, thus the importance of informing ourselves and become sensory detectives and create sensory life diets appropriate to our families’ unique needs.
Thus, a sensory health framework must be pluralistic, taking into consideration the uniqueness of a child’s experiences (sensory and otherwise) and a family’s context. The complexity involved in sensory well being made me turn to the Integrative theory, which can provide a framework to approach the complexity and uniqueness of sensory life in a systematic yet flexible way. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, co-director of the Integral ecology centre, presents a useful summary of the theory[ii], which is summarized below.
[ii] Esbjorn-Hargens, Sean (2009). “An All-Inclusive Framework for the 21st Century. An Overview of Integral Theory”. Integral Post. Integral life. March 12th, 2009. https://www.integrallife.com/integral-post/overview-integral-theory